The Silkworm: A Cormoran Strike Mystery
Name: Cormoran Strike
Age: 35 years
Career: Military Police, injured in action, amputee.
Brief Bio: Born out of an illicit liaison between a famous rock star and a 'super groupie'. An ex army officer, Cormoran loses his leg in a AED explosion in Afghanistan. Cormoran's personal life is complicated, having recently broken up with his girlfriend and living out of his office. His only link to his family is his sister Lucy and her family.
He has no contact with his father, but he is listed in his dad's Wikipedia page as his illegitimate son. He is kind and sensitive and has an uncanny ability to put people ease and open up. After the media storm that followed the Lulu Landry case ( The Cuckoo's Calling) Cormoran is now steadily attracting cases but is not popular with the authorities as he succeeded where the Police failed. We learn more about Cormoran in the second book, about his upbringing in Cornwall and his friends as well as his military background.
Address: Denmark Street, London
Favorite Beer: Doom Bar
Secretary/Sidekick: Robin Venetia Ellacott
A Dazzling Debut
The mystery author Robert Galbraith's 2013 debut novel 'The Cuckoo's Calling' was a critical and commercial success. This was even before it was revealed that hiding under that cloak of invisibility was none other than the Potter- Mater, JK Rowling.
It was clever of Rowling not to fly on the back of her Potter Mania and try her mystery debut under an independent label and seek critical validation. Once the media leak occurred, understandably the sales went flying higher than the snitch in a Quidditch game ( I'll stop any more Potter allusions, I promise).
After the initial outing, it is always a pressure to craft that second novel. Expectations are always high, especially when your series character immediately attracts a fandom.
Having devoured the first book in one sitting and enjoying it immensely ( See my review here), I have been eagerly anticipating the follow-up.
Dear Joanne Kathleen Rowling has produced the second book, and if you are an avid mystery fan like me, you would grab it in a nanosecond. For it is, dear reader, as good, if not better than the first one.
“You are not writing properly unless someone is bleeding, probably you.”— Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm
Owen Quine is a frustrated cult author whose previous novels were a mix of magical realism, dark satire and even darker humour - while they have a niche following, none of them ever hit the best seller lists. He has the habit of disappearing for a few days and turning up at various hotels, when the fancy takes him, much to the distress of his downtrodden, mousy wife.
When Owen fails to return after allegedly going to a writer's retreat, his wife hires Cormoran Strike to track him down. She feels that the Police are too fed up of Owen's staged disappearances to help.
Cormoran likes a challenge. There is something about the pathetic plea from the wife that makes him take the case, even though he feels she should go to the Police if worried. In order to track the missing author, Cormoran traverses the shady underbelly of the Publishing world, meeting disgruntled editors and vainglorious publishers. He slowly realises that Owen's latest manuscript could be a timebomb of slander and salacious gossip that threatens to unmask the darker secrets of several of these people who were close to him.
The as yet unpublished manuscript is titled 'Bombyx Mori' - The Silkworm.
A gory discovery sends Cormoran and his lovely secretary Robin racing to track down a cunning killer. They do this while trying to unravel the metaphorical mess of Owen's latest manuscript, when they realise the clues to the killer's identity could be contained within.
What follows is a heady mix of wonderfully laid out clues, impeccably brought to life characters and a brilliantly realised detective-sidekick pairing in Cormoran and Robin. The mystery, when it is unravelled, has all the beauty and intricacy of a Russian Matryoshka doll.
“...writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want life-long friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.”— Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm
Cormoran is named after a mythical Giant from Cornish legend. Mythology has it that he hails from St Michael's Mount in Cornwall and was the first giant to be slayed by Jack (from Jack and the beanstalk). True to his name, our Cormoran is a 6 foot 3 giant of a man with 'semi-pube' hair.
Oh what a Tangled Web...
There is something reminiscent of vintage Agatha Christie in Rowling's plotting. She layers the story with meticulous care, and the clues are all laid out for us to see but perhaps not compute. I have always loved the 'ah' moment at the end of a mystery where your brain hops back to the clues that you had read and registered but not put together -it is a sure sign of a proper whodunit. Despite my best effort to double guess the identity of the killer, I was gifted with a neat twist that was hugely satisfying.
I am, like many of you, a jaded mystery reader, I have read hundreds if not thousands of mysteries and I always approach a new book with a snobbish air of someone who can frequently work out the ending. When the author manages to hoodwink me, I raise my hat in quiet appreciation of a prodigious talent.
What is even more satisfying is the backstory and the slowly growing relationship between Cormoran and Robin. While still platonic ( Robin is engaged to be married while Cormoran is still missing his broken relationship with a society beauty), there is enough frisson and mutual admiration there to keep us engaged and eager to see them get together.
With this second novel, Cormoran and Robin have deservedly booked a place in the canon of literary detectives and their sidekicks. This is a very assured book by JK Rowling who has proven conclusively she has outgrown the immensely popular Potter.
Her writing is mature with beautifully realised prose. She can convey the scene with few well sculpted words and set the mood. As a reader you are taken on a journey through rainy London, through the dark backstreets and posh houses, homely pubs and family gatherings, through the crowded underground tube trains and glamourous publisher's parties.
All along you have Cormoran for company, and his torment from his painful knee is yours, his pangs for a fresh pint of doom bar makes you wet your lips. He's here to stay, dear reader, and we are glad for it.
"Hard to remember these days that there was a time you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.”— Robert Gailbraith, The Silkworm
© 2014 Mohan Kumar